Abstract: Barriers to Father Engagement in the Child Welfare System (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

130P Barriers to Father Engagement in the Child Welfare System

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Julia Hernandez, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Cristina Gomez-Vidal, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: Child welfare research suggests that fathers are routinely not engaged in the child welfare system and that child welfare worker bias against fathers plays a large role in their exclusion. However, a focus on the role of child welfare workers ignores other institutional barriers to father engagement such as a lack of information about fathers’ identities and whereabouts and policies around which fathers can be engaged and in what ways. For example, in California fathers who have not established paternity are not eligible for child welfare services.

The present study seeks to expand upon the extant literature by examining barriers to engaging fathers in services among a sample of fathers whose children are involved in the child welfare system in one urban county. It is hypothesized that institutional barriers, and not child welfare worker bias, play a large role in preventing many fathers from being offered services.

Methods: This study utilized child welfare case records for 398 fathers of 480 children, representing all children who entered out-of-home care for the first time between October 2013 and September 2015 in one urban county.

Two case documents were reviewed for each family. The Emergency Response Transfer Summary contains a summary of maltreatment allegations and investigative findings. The Disposition Report contains a comprehensive family assessment and case plan. Narrative text from the documents was coded using the reunification bypass classifications outline in the California Welfare & Institutions Code §361.5b, which lists the conditions under which child welfare services need notbe provided to parents. These include but are not limited to chronic use of alcohol or drugs, prior termination of reunification services, and severe physical abuse of a child under 5. Additional categories were created as trends emerged in the data.

Results: Of the 398 fathers included in the sample, 258 (65%) were not provided services. Among these fathers, paternity emerged as the largest barrier, with 48% of fathers being rendered ineligible for services because they had not established paternity. A small proportion of fathers (9%) were not provided services because their children’s cases were being dismissed or transferred to Family Maintenance. An additional 7% of fathers lived in another country and could therefore not participate in services. A few fathers were not provided services because they were incarcerated (3%), had previously failed to reunify with another child (3%), or their whereabouts were unknown (3%).

Conclusions and Implications: These findings indicate that barriers other than child welfare worker bias against fathers, specifically paternity, prevented many fathers from being provided child welfare services. This suggests that efforts to increase father engagement in child welfare should focus on addressing barriers to establishing paternity. Similarly, it is time to consider new policies and services that acknowledge the role of and engage unestablished fathers through the child welfare system.